If you remember 1963, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, it's easy to see how someone who had never been to Yankee Stadium could mourn its death. You didn't know JFK personally, but you knew what he represented.

And so you grieved.

The House that Ruth Built is giving way to the House that Progress Wrought. It's unlikely anyone will find the ghosts of Gehrig, DiMaggio or Ruth in the new place, but scaring up a mocha latte should be easy.

The new stadium will be efficient, upscale, probably even evocative, but ultimately soulless.

A house doesn't make memories overnight.

So when a friend told me he and his son had gone to the old baseball shrine recently, just to say good-bye, I realized I never visited the only stadium I really ever wanted to see.

Yankee Stadium, which hosted its final game on Sunday, stood as a monument to Americana. I stand as a monument to procrastination. I kept assuming I'd get there when I got around to it, but it never happened. I felt a vague loss Sunday, not unlike the day President Kennedy was shot. Part of my hopes had vanished, part of my childhood, too.

When I was a kid, I played baseball every day of summer with my two brothers. With school out, we roamed the outfield of Yankee Stadium, which in actuality was just the back yard of our family farm. Home plate was in front of the swing set. Center field was a tall thatch of weeds. Right field, like Yankee Stadium, had a short porch. There was a tall barn with a steeply pitched roof in foul territory. A high plank fence that braced the haystack served as the right field wall.

We'd hit flies to one another, trying to place the ball so it sailed near the fence, but not over. That way we could practice our leaping catches at the warning track.

I slept with my baseball mitt and Yankees hat.

In that era, there was still a lot of fear of nuclear war. One night, when I was eight or nine, I dreamed the sirens were wailing and people were being told to grab what was most valuable and leave their homes, because the bomb was coming.

I took my hat and mitt and was racing out the back door when I awoke.

My dad had an old cathedral radio in the barn. When he turned it on, it had an orange dial. We would pick up the scores in the evening when the mosquitoes got thick, keeping close watch on the pennant races.

We played hundreds of games on that farmyard field, just me, my brothers and — until a balky shoulder got the best of him — my dad.

Every night I imagined playing in Yankee Stadium. Yeah, I know. Me and a hundred million other kids.

Much later, I thought I'd end up there through my work travels ... But there was always another stadium or sport to cover, another lurking deadline. Vacations took me to quieter places than New York.

It's not like I feel cheated. I've had more than my share of visits to legendary places. I've seen Major League Baseball stadiums in 17 cities. I was introduced to Henry Aaron in the Atlanta Braves' clubhouse, after which I walked through the dugout to the spot where Hammerin' Hank hit his 715th home run.

There in the vacant hush of a January afternoon, I took an imaginary swing for the fences.

I have stood on the grass at Notre Dame, where Knute Rockne and his Four Horsemen still linger on autumn afternoons; walked the creaky parquet court at Boston Garden. I sat courtside at Chicago Stadium when Michael Jordan was in his prime, the howl of the crowd enveloping every other sound.

I've been to the Rose Bowl, L.A. Coliseum, Neyland Stadium, Ohio Stadium, Michigan Stadium, the Orange Bowl, Churchill Downs, Texas and Nebraska Memorial stadiums, Louisiana Superdome, and Madison Square Garden ... A lot of great places, a lot of history.

Too bad I missed the one I really wanted to see.

A few years ago my daughter gave me a snow globe of Yankee Stadium that played "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." It came as a surprise, since I hadn't cheered for a team since entering journalism school. But I loved it. It reminded me I needed to go to the field of my childhood dreams, maybe even take my daughter.

Little did I know the snow globe would be as close as I would get.

I never saw the outfield monuments, never looked in wonder at the famous white frieze that appeared on my Yankee baseball cards. Yet in a way, I was there a thousand times when I stepped up to the plate back home, there with Dad's cathedral radio calling out the scores on summer evenings.

The great old stadium was all around me.

Which is what made the place so extraordinary.

You were there even when you weren't.


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